A while back I mentioned what happened when a severe storm hit the Port Arthur, Texas high school where I was teaching chemistry.
For those of you who missed it, let me just say that the high school's kids in my class, who laughed at the idea of taking shelter under their lab benches if a storm struck, were gone under them like a shot when one actually arrived.
There's more to that story.
It involves what I saw in my back yard when I got home that day at about 4 p.m. In a word, branches. Masses of sodden leaves and branches piled as high as my head, a whole backyard full.
It was a cold, wet afternoon, down in the low 50s after the cold front that had roared through.
The day was still young though. So, I got out my chain saw and began cutting limbs.
I had cut through and hauled away about a third of them when I found a poor, pitiful-looking baby bird in a nest at the bottom of a heap of wet, dripping leaves. It was just a chick -- no more than a day or two old, not even feathered out yet, and soaking wet.
It was so fatigued from cold, with its head flopping loosely and its eyes tightly closed, that I thought at first it was dead, but it wasn't. So I picked up both nest and bird and carried them onto the sheltered back porch, wrapped them in tissue paper and some dry warm cotton, and put them in a small box.
I thought that by the time I finished with the branches the poor thing would be dead, but again it fooled me. So, I took the chick inside, made a jury-rigged little home for it in a small box lined with cotton and did my best to feed it a little something -- some tiny bits of bread soaked in warm milk and fed with tweezers.
Twice that night, I got up and fed the poor little thing again, each time thinking I would find it dead. But each time, as before, it fooled me.
In the morning, I did a little research and found out that it was most likely a red cardinal chick, and began following some instructions on hand-rearing wild birds that I had sent for from a society in California.
The poor thing stayed so hunkered down in my warm, jury-rigged nest that it wasn't until the third day that I discovered it had a broken leg. I splinted it with soft cotton and short lengths of toothpick, calling myself every kind of idiot in the book for having missed the injury.
And so, a family that had two lively, curious cats found itself with the task of hand-rearing a tiny female red cardinal named Tik-Tik.
That's the call of a red cardinal and she was making it after a couple of days, so you might say she named herself.
My, how that little bird found a way into our hearts.
And how she loved the tasty fruit and vegetable delights we prepared for her, following the instructions.
We would close off the living room from the rest of the house because of the cats and let Tik-Tik practice her aerobatics. What a great thing, what an absolutely great thing it is to have a wild bird come and sit on your shoulder, fly away, come back, sit on your arm or hand, chatter at you in excitement, whirl around the room again, zoom back in for a landing, fuss around some more, make her call again, turn her head and look you in the eye, and just generally let you know that she is having a great time and loves being with you.
Then came the great day. Sad, but great. Out in the back yard, releasing little Tik-Tik. It was the first time she'd ever flown in the endless place of the out-of-doors.
She flew up into the Chinaberry tree near the back door, high up on a limb that was 25 feet over my head. There, she called for her dinner as usual as my wife and I and our two kids grinned.
"Tik-tik. Tik-tik," she said.
"We don't fly," I told her. "You have to come down here to us earthbound peasants to get a handout."
She did, and for a while she kept coming back for a meal now and then.
Then she quit and I knew why. You see, Tik-Tik's injured leg, while it was just as strong as her other one, had a slight curve as a result of my dumb failure to splint it right away.
That made her very recognizable.
I could see that the female proudly darting around with a handsome red mate up in the oak, or the pear tree, or the Chinaberry tree was none other than the little lady that we had hand-reared.
She brought her kids back to visit, too.
Life is beautiful.